AN INTERVIEW WITH ERIC WORO, AUTHOR OF ‘HOW TO TEACH ENGLISH IN THE MIDDLE EAST’
We were lucky enough at TEFLExchange to grab an interview with Eric Woro, a long time teacher and writer who has recently published a new book, ‘How to Teach English in the Middle East’. It’s a full-service guide for any teacher looking to survive and thrive in the region. Drawing heavily on his life teaching at a college in a small desert town, it’s an awesome guide to getting work and living well in one of the most intriguing TEFL destinations. Here’s our interview:
TEFLExchange: Hi Eric, can you tell our readers a little about yourself and how you ended up teaching?
Eric: Sure. I grew up in southern California and my parents were academics, so I got started on foreign languages very early in life. Most ambitious parents in that part of the country encouraged their kids to learn Spanish, considering how useful it is. Mine had me studying Latin, French, and German. By the time I got into UCSD in La Jolla, I had already scored higher on my German achievement SAT than on the English, and I wanted to become an interpreter, I thought.
Naturally fate always has plans of its own, as they say, and I went to work in Germany when I was still a teenager but I never became an interpreter. Instead, I just got more and more fascinated with foreign cultures and spent long periods of time living overseas and meeting new kinds of people everywhere. Eventually, given my love of language and a couple of English degrees, I became an ESL instructor. But surely it all went back to my childhood, when I sat at my desk conjugating Latin verbs and dreaming about the people in ancient Rome.
TEFLExchange: Cool, so you started out in Germany…how did you end up living in the Middle East?
Eric: Well, it’s quite a long story. I had finished a year of teaching ESL in Moscow, Russia, and when my wife and I returned to the United States I decided to give her a tour of the country (she had grown up in Russia). We visited all the friends I could find from the West coast to the East and back again, living out of a van for six months and camping everywhere we went. When we got back to Seattle, a city I love, my wife found some ESL teaching jobs in the Middle East and shared the online details with me.
I knew nothing about the Middle East but I knew enough not to believe the constant media negativity, and on a lark, I decided to apply. I sent out I don’t know how many applications and got nearly a half-dozen offers. Six weeks later, we were on a flight to Oman.
TEFLExchange: Wow, that’s a big risk to take – but clearly one that worked out well. What inspired you to write the book?
Eric: It’s interesting how this book came about, because I never planned for it. I was, in fact, working on a very lengthy novel which is still only half-finished, when I set it aside suddenly and opened a new folder on my computer and started writing about the Middle East. All that happened to me in the Middle East had lain dormant for three years but had been building up inside me, like a pregnancy, and finally there it was.
It surprised me as much or more than anyone else, because all my energies had been focused on the novel. But now I wanted to share my experience with other ESL teachers. As I got into the writing, I realized that my four years in the Middle East had had a profound effect on me. It had changed me more than anything else in life. I remembered that I had known nothing about that region of the world when I went there, but now I look back and I can feel and understand the people I got to know there and the way of life that I was part of.
To be honest with you, I really miss it sometimes. There was a clarity in the life over there—I couldn’t possibly explain it in a short interview. I don’t doubt I will write other books in the future about the Middle East. I believe all ESL teachers should set aside a year or two and go teach over there, not only for the high salaries but for the people and the lifestyle. You don’t know what it is until you experience it. I don’t want to sound too mysterious, so I’ll just say that it’s an amazing, wonderful place.
TEFLExchange: I think I know the feeling. I knew nothing about Southeast Asia before I came, just that people came here a lot on holiday to go partying. It really opened my eyes to the history and cultures of the regions. There’s no better way to change your outlook than experience a totally different way of life. Our next question is, what’s the best thing about teaching in the Middle East?
Eric: The best part of teaching in the Middle East, for me, was the Arabian Sea. Sorry if that’s not what I’m supposed to say! but my wife and I are both avid swimmers and have promised ourselves that, rich or poor, we will always try to live on or near the sea. I think we’ve been swimming in every ocean on the planet (perhaps you noticed how I deftly avoided the past participle “we’ve swum,” which always sounds strange to me). The waters of the Indian Ocean off the Gulf of Oman are quite warm year-round, and we went to our favorite hangout, just a few miles away, at least twice a week. You can’t imagine how amazing it is to be swimming in those waters and looking back at the beach, where camels graze, or off towards the distant horizon, where centuries-old Portuguese military forts still tower mysteriously over the city.
Hiking in the outback (they don’t call it that, but I do) is also incredible, and sometimes incredibly challenging. Make sure you have high quality hiking boots. The other best part of teaching there was hands-down my colleagues at school. Some were Arabs, more Indians, a few Pakistanis, and a smattering of Americans, Canadians, Australians, Filipinos and South Africans. They were the best colleagues and friends I’ve ever been lucky enough to meet. I would also mention the students, but they were variously the best and the worst (!), as I think is always the case with students, especially teenagers.
TEFLExchange: The sea sounds amazing. We’re freezing right now and would definitely consider jumping on a plane for some year-round warm beaches. But we have to ask, what’s the worst part about teaching English? Is there anything you didn’t like?
Eric: The worst part of my experience in the Middle East was undoubtedly the heat, although you are almost always protected by air conditioners—in your office, in the classrooms, at home, and in your car. But the heat is an especial danger if you’re adventuresome and athletic, which I am, and if you drive, which I do—it puts an enormous strain on automobiles.
We love to go hiking and backpacking, and there were some dangers there. It’s not hard to understand that if you go camping in the outback and your car breaks down and you don’t have enough water, you’re in trouble when the temperatures are way over 100 degrees. Also, some people suffer a little from allergies in the desert climate. There’s dust in the air. It’s not horrible, but it’s there, and if you’re not a healthy person, you can have a hard time with it. That said, all their medical doctors know what to prescribe for allergies and so on, so it’s not that big a deal.
TEFLExchange: Yeah the heat sounds quite brutal! I guess you’d get used to it though. Alright, one more question. If you could say anything to our readers who are considering a move to the Middle East to Teach English as a Foreign Language, what would you say? Any more advice?
Eric: What else I have to say in one word: GO. Don’t pass up the chance. Just go. Not only for the money, but for the incredible cultural differences that will touch your heart and change you in ways you never imagined. Like so many ESL instructors, I have a basic wanderlust in my heart, and there are so many places in the world that are interesting and that beckon us to go and taste their special flavors. But I stayed in the Middle East for four years—that’s how fascinating I found it.
It’s a long time for me. I’ve worked or taught in Europe, Russia, Asia, Canada, and the United States, but out of all those amazing places only the Middle East changed my views on life in ways I could only begin to describe. It will do the same thing for you, too. My book details the places you can go which are perfectly safe and wonderful. So read the book, send out your applications, and get yourself over there. You will always be glad that you did so. You’ll go and you’ll come back and you’ll look at your friends and talk with them and you’ll understand that they don’t understand what you understand. You’ll know what I mean after you do it. It gets down deep in your heart. And meanwhile, you’ll make a boatload of money.
Visit ericworo.com to read an excerpt of the book
We’d like to thank Eric for sitting down with us. His new book is available on Amazon here and his website is here. If you’re serious about teaching abroad, or want to gain insight into every aspect of how to not only live, but do well in the Middle East, it’s a must read. Eric writes clearly and expertly, and we’re happy to have another resource for our TEFL quest. For a few dollars, it’s definitely a worthwhile investment.
To read an excerpt of the book, check out Eric’s website, ericworo.com.